Friday, October 14, 2011

Age of Reason

When do we reach the age of reason? Does it apply to populations and societies too? Things here in the US are pretty crazy right about now, and nobody really seems very reasonable or rational. Has reason just been abandoned? I try not to talk much about politics because it makes me crazy, it usually makes me depressed and it's very easy to get sucked down into a downward spiral that I can't allow for so many reasons. But sometimes it gets to be too much.

I asked Paul last night what all the Occupy Wall Street was about, since I never considered myself up on politics or economics much. I probably qualify as a fairly well educated ordinary citizen here in the US. It was helpful to talk it out with Paul, since he has a very logical mindset and he's good at seeing all sides of an argument. I knew the basic idea was that The People have just had it with the 1% fatcats who are sucking up all of the money and resources and telling the rest of us sheep to just work for ever-lower wages, not think about it too hard, suck it up, pay our taxes to the 1%, give up our basic democratic rights like voting and go off and just die if we can't afford private health care. Well, that pretty much sums up what I've been hearing and how it feels lately, anyway.
It was really good to talk with Paul about all of this, but also pretty scary to hear him voicing some of my own thoughts, and to realize that even in his quiet, well-reasoned views, things are wildly out of control in this country and that the loud, extreme right-wing elements are indeed not only frighteningly beyond any reason but also determined to spread hatred and evil for their own gains. Paul is a very intelligent, well spoken and well reasoned person whose opinion and rationality I trust a great deal. To realize that he is frightened at the state of things is more scary to me than almost anything else. To hear that he has thought about emigrating to another country (which I've also thought about, despite the fact that I love this country) was a shock. He wouldn't even muse about such a thing unless he felt things were really, really bad.

Keith Olbermann read a press release from the Occupy Wall Street group, and whatever you think of Olbermann, the declaration he read is interesting. It's a passionate declaration, but it's so wide-reaching that it becomes unwieldy. Their dissatisfaction seems so huge and all-encompassing that it all feels impossible. The statement keeps talking about 'They' as a sort of faceless evil that is to blame for all of the many ills listed. There is no real call to specific action, it sounds like, except for a call to gather in peaceful protest. Assert your power to peaceably assemble, the statement says. Make your voices heard, it says. Which can be a powerful thing, as Ghandi proved, but doesn't it need a cohesive and coherent path to follow for things to get fixed? It's too big and too vague.

I feel the desire to cheer them on, these people who are peaceably occupying, but I can't help wondering if the amorphous fatcats will simply wait them out and ignore them and hope that the lack of porta-potties will eventually make them disperse. I hope that the movement grows and continues to spread to other cities. Of course it's reminiscent of the protests against Vietnam in the late 60's and early 70's, but one of the huge differences between the two is that there was a very clear goal in the Vietnam protests: get the hell out of Vietnam. Simple, pithy, clear and unequivocal. This movement now expresses a deep anger and long-building dissatisfaction with so many parts of this society as a whole that it's overwhelming and hard to know where to even start to begin to fix things.
From a health care town hall meeting here back in 2009.
Recent estimates of actual unemployment numbers now in 2011 are more like 17%.
This all may be overly simplistic on my part, but I'm a fairly intelligent, college educated adult who has supposedly reached the age of reason, and I have just about no freaking clue of how to fix the mess we're in. I could join the protests and hope that some wise souls are out there who have the knowledge of the best way to effect change, and the best interests of the people at heart, and who actually have the power and ability to change things. Maybe someone like that is out there and able to have some impact, but from where I'm sitting it sure looks like all of the reasonable people who have a clue and have a conscience are being systematically discredited and silenced, rendered helpless and ineffective. I've been watching Elizabeth Warren, she gives me hope, but voices of reason like hers are being discredited and suppressed by the financial goliaths (as shown by the recent abject failure to actually appoint her as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency that she developed). We are in crisis, and it's been building for a long time, and we have failed to recognize the warning signs. How do we recover from this? Can we?

I have been feeling increasingly helpless and alarmed at the state of things in the economy, in politics, in the types of laws being put out there by the right wing, in the steps backward in civil rights. It seems inconceivable that these things are happening. I don't recognize this country. I do think people need to stand up and be heard, and not just the right-wing crazies with the really loud voices.
It makes me wonder if I always had an overly rosy ideal of what the country stood for and maybe I've clung stubbornly to that ideal.  There is a huge difference between a country run on the principles of democracy and a country run badly on the worst sort of capitalism, though few people seem to really understand that there is a difference between the two. I don't want to think that the promises of democracy are all a lie, that commerce at any cost and bottom-line profit and taking everything you can get at the cost of others' lives is all it ends up amounting to in the end. Where is the reason in that world view of 'take all you can get and screw everyone you can at every turn'? It's ultimately self-destructive and my tendency is to want to characterize it as plainly evil.

Paul pointed out to me several things that were helpful in seeing things more clearly. He pointed me to DC Douglas' video post about Occupy Wall Street. It points to 4 things that could be done that would help the overall situation:

--Reinstate Glass-Steagall (separation of commercial banks and investment banks)
--Audit the Federal Reserve (who actually got those trillions of dollars?)
--Reverse No. 08-205 by amendment (the Citizens United case, wherein a majority of the Supreme Court held that corporations have the same rights as individuals, and that by regulating corporations' ability to contribute money to political causes, the government would be stifling their right to free speech [questionable on both grounds])
--Overhaul 1% Corporate Tax Code (make the 1% pay a fair percentage)

It will be interesting to see whether any of these potentially helpful ideas get done, since they are all things that the GOP and the big corporations are solidly against.

In other news, Paul's company has decided to stop providing the health care coverage for its employees' families. It looks like we need to figure out how we will keep some sort of coverage for the rest of our little family. Not that the health coverage really makes us safe from catastrophic health care costs, but it's perhaps better than nothing. It means that to keep us covered under the same coverage Paul will have, in effect Paul ends up taking (another) pay cut. Things are tight over here, and we're some of the lucky ones, but it's going to get tighter.

I'm going to go do something else and try to savor some of the simpler, easier things in my life. Enough despair.


  1. Enough despair, indeed. I may not have big solutions, but we can sure as hell help out in small ones. You have our hands and what we can spare at your disposal, as always, you know that, right?

    If we can help, you let us know, we will work it out.

    We love you guys

    Leslie and Ardyn

  2. I believe Paul's suggestions are all essential.
    I reposted a huge long list of reasons why Occupy's demands probably *ought* to be massive:

    Rolling Stone posted a similar list, here:

    I posted links & listings of the points that Bernie Sanders made, which are ways of embodying those ideas in law. His list of proposals:

    To Paul's list, I would further include "making serious efforts to prevent voting rights act violations". These range from Jim Crow-style intimidation, computer voting machine fraud, to dubious legislative efforts to suppress the vote. These are things like requirements to vote which will disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters such as women, minority groups, and certain districts vs. others. One such trick, for instance, is to legally require a certain sort of state ID to vote, and then closing all offices that provide those kinds of ID in liberal districts, and only have them open in conservative districts. (Yes, another Wisconsin stunt there.)

    Another Rolling Stone article on those details, very specific details about the stunts, here:

    One of the reasons Occupy's message is so messy is that they are trying so hard to be truly democratic.

  3. Another great list, with additional ideas, from Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:

  4. I think it might be asking a lot to expect such a nascent organic movement to enumerate a clear set of goals so soon. I also think it's a mistake to believe the anti-war movement during Vietnam had clear goals--especially at the beginning.

    It just takes a while for spontaneous movements like this to move beyond the inarticulate frustration period. Then they develop some coherent goals, and then come up with some policy objectives. The problem is coherent goals and policy objectives are dull hard work, and right now people just want to stand up on their hind legs and howl. And good for them for doing it.

    They'll get down to the grunt work later; let's just be glad folks are sounding their barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world (I don't think Whitman would object to that).